Tag Archives: Common Good

Common Ground on the Common Good

Living in the Spirit
November 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. –Ezekiel 34:20-24

Wow! What an amazing experience. I turned off the morning news after hearing reports of Congress dealing with the tax bill and read the above scripture for the day. In the news, one Senator* indicated he was a no vote on the bill because it favored large corporations over small businesses which he described essentially as the lifeblood of our economy. Others expressed concern about the tax bill increasing the national debt. Some recognize that health care would be markedly and negatively impacted by the legislation if passed that sounds like fat sheep vs. lean sheep to me.

We are all called to do justice, and followers of Christ are called to be the Body of Christ in the world today. Being a shepherd of all God’s people, and all people are God’s, is one of our tasks as doers of justice. Our representatives in Congress are ultimately responsible to us, not their financiers. We must recognize that we allowed big money to push us aside while distracting us and dividing us through highly emotional issues, changes in political financing through court intervention (Citizens United), and gerrymandering. We need to seek forgiveness for our complicity, primarily through sins of omission, and go about the business of correcting an unjust system.

Prayer: Lord, we do ask your forgiveness for shirking our duties as shepherds of your people through our civil failures. Guide us to work together to find common ground on the Common Good. Amen.

*Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin see at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/us/politics/senate-house-tax-cut.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Doing Justice, Assuring the Common Good

Living in the Spirit
November 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 78:1-7
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
   that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
   we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob,
   and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
   to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
   the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
   but keep his commandments;

The message is simple and clear: we must learn from our mistakes and successes, and we must work to assure that the generations to follow will not need to repeat the same learning from their experiences. We do not do a good job of either.

Congress is once again pursuing tax cut legislation based on a debunked theory that cutting the taxes on the wealthy and businesses will grow the economy so much the government will reap enough tax money to fuel the economy even when the percentage of taxes collected after the cuts were reduced markedly. I know of several instances when implementation of this scheme did not work. I know of none when it did work.

Greed and lust for power drive people to function in ways that do not recognize reality. We all do this to some degree or another. I have a friend who suffers extreme migraines after eating chocolate. Occasionally, she will sample a small morsel of chocolate and prove to herself once again that she should not eat chocolate. The only person she is hurting is herself from not applying what she learned from her history. Congress, on the other hand, causes extreme anxiety to millions of people just by introducing cuts in services to counterbalance cuts in taxes. When cuts in service are made, human beings suffer the consequences of the actions of the members of Congress passing the legislation. Congress members may never interact with the people paying a high price for Congress’ being out of touch with reality.

We are called to do justice. A piece of that is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Prayer: Lord, open the ears, eyes, and hearts of the members of Congress and state legislatures to face the real outcomes of their actions. Guide them to find ways to assure the Common Good not just what is good for the people who financially support them. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Politics and Practices

Living in the Spirit
October 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ –Matthew 22:15-17

Political leaders in Washington DC and Oklahoma are under the delusion that cutting taxes will put more money back into the economy. The fact they seem to miss is that we invest the vast majority of tax money quickly back into our economy.  Roads are built and maintained by people who work. In Oklahoma, last year 12 rule hospitals filed for bankruptcy, and three closed primarily from cuts in federal health care spending robbing entire communities of readily accessible health care not to mention jobs lost.

Civil government has played an important role in the development of our world since families grew to tribes and tribes needed to interact to provide for the Common Good. We may all want to gripe about paying taxes, but government serves a necessary purpose. Yes, governments need to operate efficiently and effectively and yes, governments need to handle our tax dollars wisely. The protection of the Common Good is the foundation for our otherwise thriving.

Pitting the church against the government as the Pharisees were trying to do in our scripture today is trying to catch Jesus in the politics of the day. Living under the Roman rule where its subjects were not a part of the decision-making process dictated a choice between following the rules or facing serious consequences. Rome’s religious tolerance ended at the tax collectors’ tables. Protections against such practices are in our Constitution, not to limit religion but to protect all citizens from having someone else’s religion imposed on them.

We, too, get caught up in the politics of the day, and it colors our decision-making practices as citizens in a democratic society where we do have responsibilities for assuring quality governance in the provision of the Common Good. We cannot and should not force our religious beliefs through laws on others. We can, and we must live our faith through our participation as citizens. Walking that tightrope takes courage and trust that Jesus taught us what was important. The thing is the Common Good fits nicely with Jesus’ teachings like feeding the hungry.

Prayer: Lord, give us the vision we need to see past politics and find the way to the Common Good. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Living in the Spirit
September 28, 2017

Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.—Philippians 2:1-4

We need to hear this scripture today. In Matthew 12:25b,  Jesus is  quoted as saying Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. Principalities and powers from I believe, selfish ambition or conceit, are working hard to gain power by dividing the people of the USA. I listened to 60 Minutes (9/24/2017) and heard regular people talking together saying they feared things had gotten so bad that we were near civil war in this country. Congress has lost the ability to find common ground as has the Oklahoma State legislature. I just heard a report that we have jobs in Oklahoma going unfilled because there are no qualified people available and many people who cannot find jobs. We have underfunded education for years and seem to lack the will to provide even adequate education. What is the source of this self-defeating behavior?

We need to purposefully work at being of the same mind, having the same love, and being in full accord and of one mind. Such a transition will never occur unless we are intentional about it. Such a transition will never occur unless we practice humility and seek the Common Good.

The Thunder Basketball team starts its 2017-2018 season with the addition of two superstars, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to play alongside 2017 MVP, Russell Westbrook. Melding individual skill into a working team including the other players will be a challenge requiring a central purpose of winning games. A challenge at first is just getting into rhythm but I trust they will succeed.

Our role in serving God requires the same type of central purpose and an even higher level of humility and dedication. This state, this nation, the whole world depends on our getting it right. With God’s help, we will.

Prayer:
In loving partnership we come,
seeking, O God, your will to do.
Our prayers and actions now receive;
we freely offer them to you.

 We are the hands and feet of Christ,
serving by grace each other’s need.
We dare to risk and sacrifice
with truthful word and faithful deed.

 Loving community we seek;
your hope and strength within us move.
The poor and rich, the strong and weak
are brought together in your love.

 In loving partnership, O God,
help us your future to proclaim.
Justice and peace be our desire,
we humbly pray in Jesus’ name. * Amen

*Hymn In Loving Partnership by Jim Strathdee see at http://www.pateys.nf.ca/cgi-bin/lyrics.pl?hymnnumber=759

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Common Ground, Common Good

Living in the Spirit
September 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21

I read an article recently acknowledging the fact that the USA has lost its mainstream values. We seem to want to take great pride (which by the way is one of the seven deadly sins) in being a Christian nation while we grow further and further away from basic Christian values. Paul list many of those values in our scripture today. Is it possible that our government works best not enforcing the tenets of a specific religion, but when our citizens live the tenets of their faiths and thus they are reflected in statutes?

In William Martin’s historical fiction work, Lincoln’s Letters, the lead character from the Civil War sections gained the help of free African Americans because he was known to tip his hat to all he met. In the mid-19th Century, gentlemen tipped their hats to other gentlemen and ladies but apparently did not deem it necessary or appropriate to recognize others similarly. When asked why she helped him, one woman said something in effect that she was a Christian and she could see the good in him.

The major religions of the world share many values. They can and do come together to find common ground regarding faith interactions. I do not doubt if our elected officials sought the Common Good rather than practice my way or the highway politics, the USA would stabilize and prosper for all its citizens and immigrants.

Prayer: Lord, help us, be doers of the Word. Open our hearts to living your values. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Serving God is Serving Others

Eastertide
May 15, 2017

Scripture Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. –Acts 17:22-27

How many times do we use language describing ourselves as serving God? Today I stumble over Paul’s sentence (emphasis added): The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. I am amazed that I had not seen this before or  at how much sense Paul makes. God loves us and wants the very best for us. Thus, it stands to reason that the service we do for and with each other is the extension of God’s love through us to one another. Following the way of being  Jesus modeled and taught shows us the how of living into God’s love by serving one another.

Recently, I was stunned by a leader in the Oklahoma legislature who refused to put forward a change in our state gaming laws, which included more revenue for the state, because gambling was against his personal moral values based, I assume, on his faith. While he apparently sees no moral issues in increasing state revenues by adding regressive taxes that impact the poor disproportionately. He clearly does not understand that a 6 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase causes extreme hardship for someone living on $7.50 an hour while it would barely impact someone making $50 an hour. It seems we confuse the responsibility to follow our personal moral beliefs by projecting them onto others as addressing the Common Good. We fail to provide for the Common Good through finding our collective moral center in concern for our fellow citizens, which is the Common Good.

Prayer: Lord, guide us in serving you more nearly by considering and serving all your offspring in your name. Amen.

Credit for Slide: https://www.slideshare.net/ValuesCentre/cultural-transformation-vs-change-richard-barrett

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

 

God’s Vision of the Common Good

Epiphany
January 31, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. –Isaiah 58:6-9

One of the positives that comes from political discord is we each must grapple with what it is we hold dear. I find it intriguing that we make a big deal out of some issues that are barely mentioned in scripture or not mentioned at all while turning our backs on ways of being that are mentioned throughout scripture multiple times, even commanded by God. Welcoming the stranger is an example. Loving our neighbors is another. These are both subset actions of the umbrella calling to do justice.

Doing justice implies the need to have structures and processes in place for societies to operate in an orderly and fair fashion. The United States functions within a representative democracy with a checks and balance system among three branches of governance; Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. The purpose of such a government is to provide for the Common Good of all its citizens. Such systems can be traced to the beginning of history. For example, Deuteronomy 26.13 describes the care required by the community of faith for widows and orphans.

We are called to do justice as individuals and communities of faith and as citizens of this country. Addressing that calling is challenging when there exists conflict among these entities. Such conflict requires us to reach deeper into the wellspring of God’s love for guidance.

What do we hold dear?

Prayer: Lord, I wonder sometimes how you feel when you receive prayers from your followers that are diametrically opposed. How do you sort that out? Please help us each to have a better and clearer understanding of your vision for us and guide us to find the Common Good for all your children. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

 

Doing Justice in Peace and Love

Epiphany
January 23, 2017

Scripture Reading: Micah 6:1-8

O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
And redeemed you from the house of slavery;
And I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam. –Micah 6:3-4

Micah muses on the thought processes of God looking on his people and wondering what he did wrong. In what have I wearied you? It is reminiscent of Jesus looking over Jerusalem from a hillside and saying, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ (Matthew 23:37)

 I heard on a news program a reporter describing an event he experienced at the inauguration where a man in the crowd accosted the reporter on the street upon seeing his press credentials calling him bad names he could not repeat on television. It seems all news is now considered fake if it does not report what we want to hear. What kind of world do we live in, if we can trust no one?

We need to take to heart our individual and collective civilities as citizens of a country built on government by the people. Such governance does not give us license to do whatever is right for only ourselves. To the contrary, it makes us responsible for the wellbeing of each of our citizens as we provide for the Common Good.

As followers of Christ, children of God, we are called to be change agents for a just world, a challenging task. One we cannot do alone but with the love of God, the example of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is a challenge we must address.

Prayer: Lord, send your Spirit to guide us in doing justice in peace and love. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Winner Take All or Common Good

Epiphany
January 17, 2017

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4

They rejoice before you
   as with joy at the harvest,
   as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
   and the bar across their shoulders,
   the rod of their oppressor,
   you have broken as on the day of Midian. –Isaiah 9:3b-4

I believe the government of the United States accurately reflects the will of the people. We want to have our cake and eat it too, which is, of course, impossible. The type of governance is not important. The Israelites brought on their own destruction within monarchies; we can do it within a democracy as we destroy the fail-safes of our checks and balances system.

Also, as with the Israelites God offers the means to break the rod of our oppressors. The problem lies in our willingness to part ways with that which overshadows us. The Babylonians and Assyrians were just the benefactors of Israelites’ disintegration from within. The true oppressors were the greed and lust for power that moved the focus of the nation from the Common Good for all to winner takes all in which case everybody eventually loses.

Now during the transfer of power in the USA, perhaps rather than get caught up in winners and losers, self-examination should be our focus. What do we really want out of life? How would we define the Common Good? How did Jesus define the Common Good? A re-reading of the Sermon on the Mount might provide insight. Matthew 25 would provide insight also.

Prayer: Lord, help us understand what it is you want for all your children. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Relatives Through Christ

debtorsprisonChristmas
December 30, 2016

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
–Hebrews 2:14-18

I grow weary of competition among the nations. There are no borders in the Kingdom of God. We are called by God to want enough for every man, woman, and child in this world. I must desire a living wage not only for every citizen of the United States, but also very every citizen of Mexico, the Congo, and, yes, Russia and China. If I want peace and safety in my hometown, I want it for Chicago and Aleppo too.

Genealogy is a great equalizer. I have met a first cousin eight times removed through my research. I have not been able to verify it fully, but I believe one of my ancestors and his father came to the USA in 1759 on a prisoner ship from England. What behavior had resulted in their deportation, I wonder? Many came from debtor’s prisons, others as thieves and some for brawling. Or I could be mistaken and that family line, as other researchers believe, may be the offshoot of a nobleman whose son came to the USA on a lark in 1618. The son became landed gentry. I have a rather fanciful vision of DNA tracing us all back to the same starting point. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we all had to accept that we are all at least cousins? Isn’t that what the creation story is trying to tell us? Isn’t that the message Jesus taught?

Prayer: Lord, enable us to view your world through your eyes to see the solutions you intended since the beginning. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.